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Rail fares to rise 2.6% in March

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Rail fares will be frozen at 2020 prices until March, where they will then rise by an average 2.6%, the government confirmed.

The usual January rise of regulated fares, including season tickets and some off-peak return tickets on long distance journeys, will be delayed until 1 March, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced.

However, these fares will then rise by the Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation + 1, meaning a 2.6% rise.

The DfT said this is the lowest actual increase in four years and offers “a significant window for commuters who can’t work from home to buy cheaper season tickets at the existing rate”.

It added that the change will also help recover some of the significantly increased costs met by taxpayers to keep services running during the pandemic.

Typically, regulated fares rise in January and they’re based on the RPI figure from July. In July 2020, RPI stood at 1.6% with commuters expected to face this price hike, not the 2.6% rise.

This RPI benchmark price cap has been used every year since 2014 so it is the first time in years that regulated fares will rise above inflation.

Chris Heaton-Harris, rail minister, said: “Delaying the change in rail fares ensures passengers who need to travel have a better deal this year.

“Right now, our priority must be ensuring our transport network is safe for passengers and staff, and we urge members of the public to follow the government’s advice and only travel when absolutely necessary.

“By setting fares sensibly, and with the lowest actual increase for four years, we are ensuring that taxpayers are not overburdened for their unprecedented contribution, ensuring investment is focused on keeping vital services running and protecting frontline jobs.”

‘Kick in the teeth for families’

Shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, said: “We’re facing the worst recession of any major economy. Yet another kick in the teeth for families to get by.”

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog, Transport Focus, said: “This fare increase makes it even more important that, when travel restrictions start to be lifted, the industry is able to attract people back by offering fares that match how we know people hope to live, work and travel in future. This could mean new flexible season tickets which offer better value for part-time commuters, and other tickets based on how people want to use the railway.”

Jacqueline Starr, CEO of the Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators, said: “Governments must ultimately decide the balance between how much farepayers and taxpayers pay to run the railway. To keep fares down in the long-term and support a green economic recovery from Covid-19 it is crucial to get people back travelling by train after the pandemic. While passengers will be disappointed at today’s news, we are committed to working with government to make the fares and retailing system easier to use and pushing for better value deals like flexible season tickets.”

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